Ethics in the Media

a syllabus

Summer 2008
MEDC 2200.A1
© Bill Barrett 2008

Feedback (general opinions, problems, suggestions, etc.) on this hypersyllabus is encouraged!

Class description: Students learn the ethical considerations applied to journalism, broadcast journalism, photography, audio, film, video, interactive digital media, the internet, public relations, and advertising. Students learn to analyze the ethical dilemmas facing media professionals. Prerequisite: Introduction to Mass Communications (MEDC 1010). This section meets entirely on-line.

This course is coded for the General Education goal of Values (VAL). That is defined as "Critical reflection on the attitudes and beliefs relevant to individual and social choices and actions." Such a course "Exposes the student to a wide range of normative standards for ethical choices" and "Provides for the student's articulation and critique of the attitudes and beliefs that underlie ethical choices."

Course Objective and Learning Outcomes: Our ultimate goal in this course will be for each of us to construct a valid and viable ethical framework that we can use, not just as media professionals, but in our daily lives.  Along the way, well spend considerable thought defining ethics, studying varying approaches to moral reasoning and challenging one another's personal attitudes and beliefs. Students will

Text:  Louis Alvin Day, Ethics in Media Communications: Cases and Controversies (fifth edition).
It is in paperback, and available at the Webster University Bookstore. If you're looking for it at another source, the ISBN number is 0-534-63714-0. We will use the book extensively. Reading assignments will be posted periodically.

Some notes about meeting on-line: This class is likely to be different from your usual experience. If you ever feel lost, talk to me right away. I can't tell that you're looking at your shoes to try to avoid being called on, and we don't want you to have a bad experience here. It's very important that you have the self-discipline to log into the class regularly, several times a week. A face-to-face class meets for several hours at a time, but an online class relies on your being there often enough to follow and contribute to conversations. Please note that if you miss two weeks of the online discussions in this eight week class, you will not receive a passing grade for the course.

We'll be using using Internet conference software called Pandora to communicate with each other. It's really very easy; just click on the word Pandora, and follow the instructions. As soon as you tell me your user name, I'll put our class conference on the list of conferences you see when you're logged in on Pandora. (The conference for this class is called "EthicsMedia08su," but it's private, so you won't see it until I add you.)

Pandora will allow us to follow the thread of a discussion by organizing our comments into different topics. PLEASE be attentive to the topic headings so that we don't have too many tangents! We won't all be working at the same time, but it is nevertheless important to visit the class conference with some frequency. Exactly how often is quite difficult to specify. Consider this: if we were meeting in a classroom, we'd be there at least four hours a week, and work outside of class is certainly expected! It's only when you participate in the Pandora discussions that I can have any sense of your presence. Yes, reading the comments others write is also important, but it doesn't "count" any more than simply being in a room and not participating does. What matters in discussion is contributions of substance. Saying "I agree" (etc.) is fine, but not substantial.

A word on style: TYPING IN ALL CAPITALS IS LIKE SHOUTING, AND IS BAD FORM. You won't do that. Occasional misspellings and minor grammatical errors are not a huge concern, but we are professionals here, so I'm sure you'll be attentive. Even if you're very excited about something, one exclamation point is sufficient. (These are some of the things I've occasionally noticed on Pandora, so I mention them here to avoid embarrassing anyone later.)

See you on Pandora!

How you’re graded: Your final grade is based on your performance throughout the term. Your active participation counts for 30%; an on-line presentation that you will give around a case study counts for 20%. A research paper, on a subject to be chosen in conjunction with the instructor, is worth 25%. There will be a final exam with critical essay questions at the end of the term, worth 25%. Plagiarism matters, so be sure to follow this link and read these guides. Even accidental plagiarism has very serious repercussions, so if you haven't ever learned how to cite your sources correctly, you will want to spend time at the sites referred to on that page. Doing more than required can earn you extra credit; send me private email if you’re interested. This is what the grades mean...

Our schedule, more or less:

Our first week will cover a range of discussions, some based on the textbook, some from real life. Log in frequently and dive in (but always be sure you read what others have said before you post).

In the second week, the instructor will lead a case study from the textbook. Each student will lead a case study starting in the third week; watch for specific instructions online.

A research paper is due at the end of the sixth seek, on Friday, 18 July. Information on the paper and topic selection will be posted in the second week of class.

The final exam will be posted below two weeks before the term ends, and is due on 1 August, the last day of class.

Some of our discussion topics might include:

First Pandora topic: Why Study Ethics? The unexamined life is not worth living; or, O tempora, o mores! The Center for Practical and Interdisciplinary Ethics at Webster University; The Association for Practical and Professional Ethics at Indiana University. [read chapters 1-3.]

Ethics, what ethics? Public relations and advertising: The Advertising Law Internet Site; resources for Ethics &
Self-Regulation
in advertising; Public Relations Society of America Member Code of Ethics, American Marketing Association code of ethics.

Don't worry, I can fix it in Photoshop. Photography and photojournalism: American Society of Media Photographers code of ethics, National Press Photographers Association ethics code, Webster University Journal Ethical Use of Photographs policy; the case of the Kent State photograph; altering the news; creating the news and the ethical journalist: film, Under Fire.

But I saw it on TV/heard it on the radio/read it in the paper! Print and broadcast journalism: the NPR News Code of Ethics and Practices; the Public Radio Online Styleguide: Ethical Guidelines; the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics. American Society of Newspaper Editors collection of codes of ethics (both organizations and individual news media outlets).

We'll fix it in the mix. Film, video, and audio: copyright infringement, plagiarism and fair use in the music world: the strange case of My Sweet Lord and He's So Fine; the Hollywood Law CyberCenter; ripping off films.

Who wears the sheriff's badge on the Electronic Frontier? What are the rules with this digital stuff? Ethical issues and the Internet: copyright, "deep links," and other techie stuff you can't avoid.

When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean - no more, no less. Communicating ethics: issues in writing and speaking. The Columbia Journalism Review is an excellent source for national media criticism and news.

This is a test. This is only a test. (The final exam will be posted here two weeks before the term ends.)